We Don't Live Here Anymore / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()
We Don’t Live Here Anymore, adapted by Larry Gross from the Andre Dubus novellas “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Adultery,” centers around two married couples, Jack (Mark Ruffalo) and Terry (Laura Dern), and Hank (Peter Krause) and Edith (Naomi Watts). Jack and Hank are old friends who work, drink, and commiserate together, and both have something else in common: They are stuck in uninteresting marriages that are slowly dying.
Their marital difficulties are compounded because Jack and Edith are having a tender, erotic affair, an affair that Hank — a sleazy academic with a history of infidelity himself — is implicit in instigating, driving his wife to Jack to find in him what Hank is missing as a husband. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to convince himself that he actually loves Edith, but it feels like an empty self-justification for the torture he is inflicting on his wife, Terry, who is left doing all the work in her relationship, which primarily involves wondering if her husband loves her anymore. Her despondency, in turn, drives her toward Hank, who is basically just out to get laid.
The dramatic suspense in the film centers largely on how and when the adulterous affairs will ultimately be exposed and how that revelation will lead to the ruin of their marriages. But, dramatic suspense — or plot for that matter — isn’t really what the movie is about. Rather, as Larry Gross writes in his foreword for the re-released Dubus novella: We Don’t Live Here Anymore is an examination of marriage — not as an ends to living happily ever after - but “as the beginning and discovery of emotional conflict, rather than its resolution.”
Much of that emotional conflict is sparked by the chaos of sameness in their marriages, and the exploration of the choices between the outright lie of adultery and the careful selectivity which comes when there are things that two people can no longer talk about. As Dubus writes, “It’s hard to tell which kills faster, but I would say selectivity, because it is surrender: you avoid touching wounds and therefore avoid touching the heart.”
The ensemble cast is brilliantly directed by John Curran, and the acting will, in spots, leave you breathing for air. In one scene near the end, after Ruffalo has come clean with his wife, he’s standing on a cliff staring out onto the river below. Ruffalo’s visage expresses the cathartic release, the freedom from the guilt, and the euphoric realization that he’s finally about to get out of this failing marriage, and then the equally stunning recognition that he doesn’t actually want to. It is a kick-in-the-gut powerful scene, and Ruffalo’s reflective, vulnerable portrayal of Jack is perhaps even better than his performance in You Can Count on Me.
We Don’t Live Here Anymore is like a really great Wilco song: It’s multilayered and brilliant, but it doesn’t make you feel good; and when it’s over, all you want to do is stand out in the rain and smoke a cigarette. But for anyone who has experienced the crumbling of a marriage and the affairs and arguments it entails, the annoying familiarity of We Don’t Live Here resonates loudly.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.